Congregation Beth El–Keser Israel

85 Harrison Street, New Haven, CT 06515-1724 | P: 203.389.2108 |

Our banner is based on BEKI’s stained glass, designed in 2008 by Cynthia Beth Rubin. For information on this and other of Cynthia’s work, go to: <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. Artisan Fabrication by JC Glass of Branford, CT

Jews at Prayer: Selections from the BEKI Collection

March 1 – May 18, 2024

Suggested Donation amounts for Art Collectors


The current exhibition in the lower level Gallery at BEKI is a collection of works depicting “Jews at prayer,” “Jews studying,” “Jews celebrating,” and “pious Jews.”  The exhibition is drawn from artworks donated to BEKI throughout the years, some as permanent gifts, most as donations for fundraisers. Frequently entitled “Rabbi _,”  the majority of these works are representations of men, usually Ashkenazi bearded men.  In viewing the collected art works  we are touched by nostalgia, by the call of tradition, which after all is key to what Judaism is for many of us. If we all stood at Mount Sinai, then did we not also live in the Shtetls of Europe, the vibrant cities of Greece, and even twentieth century America?

Surveying the large number of works in the BEKI collection entitled “Rabbi_,” the BEKI Art Committee began discussing how best to present this work in an exhibition.  Among ourselves, we called this the “Rabbi Show,” although there is nothing in the artworks themselves to signify that these are rabbis, rather than ordinary men who have been given the honor of holding the Torah.  As Jewish artists and auction houses alike use “Rabbi ” in describing these artworks, one wonders if this is a mainstream culture idea of hierarchy transferred to our culture?  In the photograph by former BEKI president Alan Gelbert of Louis Freidman  reading the Torah we know that this is a portrait of a shamash (ritual director), not a rabbi. As viewers and members of an egalitarian synagogue,  are we able to ignore the “Rabbi” title? 

As we dug deeper, we searched for images of women.  We found a woman in a reproduction of a lithograph by the Greek-Israeli artist Rafael Avraham Shalem, recalling a Greek Sephardic family preparing for Shabbat.  We found women in the contemporary print by Deborah Joy of an egalitarian congregation. Women dance in a mid-century print by Sol Schreibman. Only one work, a print by the Israeli artist Simcha Nornberg, depicts a woman with a Torah. This is the only work of someone holding a Torah that is not entitled “Rabbi.”  

We also noted that non-Ashkenazi Jews are under-represented.  There are two wonderful prints of watercolors of Yemenite Jewish men by the Romanian-Israeli artist David Gilboa, and the previously mentioned work by Rafael Avraham Shalem, and many ethnically ambiguous works, but in general this is an exhibition with many exclusions. Additionally, only three works in the exhibition were created by women artists, including Belle Greenberg and Deborah Joy, who  were BEKI members when they donated their own work, leaving the lovely small painting “Rabbi” by Judith Aamidor as the only woman created artwork that was purchased by a donor.

We chose to honor the many missing people with a large empty frame. Our call to contemplation also includes phrases scattered throughout the exhibition. We invite BEKI members to send us their thoughts on the exhibit. For further reading, we suggest the 2008 JTS blog post by Marc Wolf, Nostalgia, Memory and the Building of Judaism,

We hope that this bit of nostalgia will inspire you to take one of the artworks into your home. Many (not all) of the works are available for a donation to the BEKI fund of your choice.  Suggested amounts are available on the BEKI website, and from